iPhone app turns butterfly fans into instant experts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2012, 12:00am


Butterfly watchers, take note. A new iPhone app launched jointly yesterday by local environmental group Green Power and Shell Nature Watch will help you identify different species with a snap and a few taps.

The butterfly-detection program works much like facial-recognition software, using the patterns on the insect's wings for identification.

'In Hong Kong, many people don't have to travel far to watch butterflies,' said Matthew Sin Kar-wah, senior environmental-affairs manager for Green Power.

'They're around you, beautiful and easy to observe.'

The group hopes the app will increase interest in wider conservation issues at a time when butterflies, like many animals globally, have seen their numbers fluctuate with the increased encroachment of human settlement and climate change.

Numbers of butterflies recorded in Hong Kong were at a two-year low, until earlier this year, when a Green Power survey found 600 butterflies, mostly of the blue-spotted crow variety, in Siu Lan Shui - a wooded former landfill site near Tuen Mun that is now considered the most important wild habitat for butterflies in Hong Kong.

Butterflies are sensitive to changes in air temperature, water quality and light conditions. They are most active between 7am and 4pm on sunny days with light winds, says Lim, whose organisation, along with Shell, has been active in butterfly conservation since 2004.

Hong Kong has about 235 species of butterfly, according to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. There are 1,300 in China and 16,000 worldwide.

The new app, specific to Hong Kong, currently identifies around 60 per cent of all butterflies in the city.

'Give us a few days and we'll have around 80 per cent accuracy,' Sin said.

The current app is made up of three parts - the inventory and search function, the butterfly detection program, and a game for younger users. It is free, but only available on the iPhone and in Chinese.